Eating animals is prosaic in New York City. Home to some of the best steakhouses, burger joints and seafood spots in the country, we consume a lot of meat here. But Eating Animals, Christopher Dillon's (God Grew Tired of Us) documentary based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2009 book and narrated by the Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman, might make you think twice before you order that $2.99 mystery meat...or any meat at all.
Opening in theaters nationwide Friday, June 15, the documentary delves into the hush-hush world of factory farming, placing a magnifying glass on its oft-overlooked environmental, health and financial ramifications. We spoke to the New York-raised, L.A.-based Natalie Portman about her path to veganism, where she likes to eat in the city and her favorite spots when she comes back east.
How did you become a vegan?
I was vegetarian from the age of nine. I had a friend at school who was vegetarian and so I knew that it was a possible option. And then I had empathy like a lot of children do for animals, because you watch cartoons and animals talk and have feelings and personalities and it feels strange to eat them.
And then I read Jonathan’s book—Jonathan and I were friends—and then he sent me the manuscript of the book before it came out and I was so moved by it and there was so much information in there that I didn’t know that I immediately stopped eating dairy and eggs after reading it. And that’s when I contacted Jonathan and asked if we could do a documentary of the book.
Did you find it difficult at first? Or it was easy since you were already a vegetarian?
It was difficult. I mean, changing habits is really hard. It’s not easy as an adult to decide to become vegetarian or to become vegan or to cut it out like once a week or something. It’s a big lifestyle change. But when you see where it comes from, I mean, it’s hard not to want to make some sort of change. I think everyone being a little more aware and just changing their habits a little bit, will make a big difference.
Since being vegan isn’t the easiest thing in the world, do you have any tips for people who want to try?
Well I think that it’s always good to know yourself. I’m a very extreme person, so for me, it’s very take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing. Other people can just kind of dabble, just decrease the amount of meat and fish and dairy and eggs—just be vegan for one meal a day or one day a week or something like that.
I think knowing yourself and what is reasonable for you is really great. And then there’s lots of great substitutes, I’ve found that oat milk is so delicious for a milk replacement, and Kite Hill and makes some really great cheeses that are pretty delicious and that are non-dairy. The Impossible Burger and the Impossible meat are really, really delicious. There’s great tempeh bacon on the market, and Van Leeuwen does great vegan ice cream. So there are a lot of great alternatives now on the market. A lot of my friends who eat everything, when they taste my vegan versions, they are like, “Oh I wouldn’t even know the difference!”
Do you have any vegan restaurants in NYC that you like to visit?
I really like Dirt Candy. That place is really good. I don’t think I’ve been to other vegan restaurants, but there are other restaurants that have great vegan food. Ilili is a great Lebanese restaurant that I love, and I go to Il Buco a lot for Italian food. Kajitsu is amazing vegan Japanese, so that’s another special occasion kind of place.
And are there any dishes that really stand out to you at those places?
I go more regularly to vegan places in L.A., but By Chloe is a great fast-food vegan food place that I go to a lot in both New York and L.A., and they have an amazing kale caesar salad, and they have really good burgers and artichoke dip.
Oh yeah, I love their Guac Burger.
Yes it’s very—everything there is very good.
What are the NYC spots you love coming back to?
I love being in Central Park, always. I just love the fact that you can be in the middle of the city and not see buildings—there are places where you can be in the trees. And I really like going to the Neue Galerie, that’s kind of my go-to spot. And also, it’s so nice being near the High Line now, being with all the galleries and I love that great art book store down there [Printed Matter]. It’s a great place to walk around this time of year.
Have you been to the new Whitney?
Yes, the new Whitney is great. I love it down it there.
Since I know you’re born in Jerusalem, do you have any favorite Israeli restaurants in NYC?
I really like Dizengoff in Chelsea Market, and then there’s also Nur—that’s what it’s called, right? That place has delicious breads.
Have you also heard of Miznon in Chelsea Market?
Ooh, I’ve heard of it. I heard that that’s that guy from Israel [chef Eyal Shani], who has that that restaurant Tzfon Abraxas, which is really good. I’ve been to his restaurant. Well, I haven’t been here, but I heard it’s delicious.